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How Ina Garten is cooking through social distancing

Amid government orders to stay home, many Americans are spending more time in the kitchen, reducing trips to the grocery store and getting creative with pantry staples. Acclaimed cookbook author Ina Garten is an expert on making the best of the ingredients on hand. She talks to William Brangham about recipe substitutions, the foods that soothe her and what she hopes we take from this experience.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Many of us are spending more time in our kitchens these days under shelter-in-place rules, forcing us to make fewer grocery runs and get creative with what's in our pantries.

    For advice on cooking in the times of COVID-19, William Brangham talked to someone who knows how to make the best of the ingredients on hand.

    It's part of our ongoing coverage of arts and culture, Canvas.

  • Ina Garten:

    This is just really simple caramel sauce.

  • William Brangham:

    Ina Garten is one of the most beloved cooks in America. Her "Barefoot Contessa" books are instant bestsellers, known for their accessible and easy recipes.

    And she's got a legion of TV fans too, who have made her show on The Food Network a longtime hit.

  • Ina Garten:

    You're a cook, right? Yes.

  • William Brangham:

    I first met Garten three years ago at her home in East Hampton.

  • Ina Garten:

    So I'm just going to pour this on top.

  • William Brangham:

    But now, in more difficult times, I wanted to check back with the Barefoot Contessa.

    Ina Garten, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Ina Garten:

    Thank you, William. I'm so happy to be here with you.

  • William Brangham:

    So nice to see you, too.

    Could you first off just tell us, how are you doing?

  • Ina Garten:

    It goes back and forth.

    I think I try and keep as normal life as I can. I'm really lucky that I work at home. I'm really lucky that I live with somebody who I want to live with, which is wonderful.

    But every once in a while, it creeps in and you think, oh, my goodness, this is overwhelming, what's happening outside and what's happening to people, and how long is this going to go on for?

    And then you just shut it down. And I do as much as I can to try and keep my life as normal as possible.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you follow the news? Are you trying to limit your intake of news about what's going on?

  • Ina Garten:

    Limit it to the "PBS NewsHour," actually.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • William Brangham:

    You're just saying that.

  • Ina Garten:

    No, I'm not.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Ina Garten:

    I just can't stand to do it all day. But one — for one hour, I can do it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • William Brangham:

    And some people have been noticing recently how your Instagram page, which is obviously one of the principal ways you're communicating with your legion of fans, has changed in some ways.

    It's become more personal. It feels like it's even more of a direct connection to you. Has that been intentional on your part?

  • Ina Garten:

    It actually happened organically.

    In the beginning, I thought, how can I connect with people and give them some tools to make themselves feel better? And so I thought, well, maybe I will make something for my pantry.

    And it started becoming like this town hall, where I could — people could ask me the question, and I could answer them. And I actually felt very connected to people, and what problems they had that maybe I could help solve.

    But the other thing that happened was, it gave me purpose and order. Like, every morning, I would wake up and think, I'm going to find out something that people are having a hard time with, and I'm going to make it.

  • William Brangham:

    There is certainly a yearning for people now.

    Everyone is cooped up at home. And we asked for questions from viewers about things, and that was something that came up over and over again.

    What is in your pantry that's a must-have that you think that is crucial for meals any time?

  • Ina Garten:

    Well, I think a lot of things, like dried beans and rice and lentils, and things that — legumes that last for a long time.

    I also have things in my freezer, which I usually don't use my freezer at all. But I love making a big pot of chicken stock. It makes me feel good, makes the house smell good. It feels familiar. And then I store it in the freezer, so I can make soups and stews.

  • William Brangham:

    So many people wrote in asking about this issue of substitutions, because we're just not going to the grocery store every day.

    So give us — give your audience some freedom about substitutions. If you don't have X, what can you do? If you don't have Y, what can you do?

  • Ina Garten:

    Of course you can make — substitute. You don't have shallots, use onions. If you don't have garlic, use ginger. If you don't — and all of a sudden, I'm finding myself doing exactly the same thing.

    And it's going to inform every other book that I write. I made a frittata the other day. It was a potato basil frittata. I had no basil, so I used scallions. And you know what? It was the best frittata I'd ever made.

    Something like Weeknight Bolognese, which is pasta with a tomato sauce. And you can really put anything you want in it. If you don't have ground beef, you can grab turkey. Or, if somebody is vegetarian, you can use — diced mushrooms are absolutely delicious.

    So I think — I'm always big on, if everybody around the table has different appetites, I find one thing that everybody can eat.

    I think, more and more, I want everything — the diners to feel like a party, because we're really kind of craving that, aren't we? We want to feel like we're having a good time. And I think if you have people around you — or even if you don't, if you're on your own, and do a Zoom, like, party on Zoom, you feel like you're still connected to people.

    That's the one thing that I really crave. And I'm — I just don't know how I'm going to get through months and months of not having it, is my friends.

    So, I do — in the beginning, I started on FaceTime and Zoom. And what I found is, I wanted to take my telephone and just curl up on my sofa with a blanket and talk to a friend in an old-fashioned way, the way we used to talk on the phone. And, that, I find satisfying.

    Baking is really satisfying. I find cooking really stressful, but I find it totally engaging. And I forget that there's something bigger going on outside.

    Are you surprised that I find cooking stressful?

  • William Brangham:

    Yes. I'm sorry.

    Did you get that, viewers? Ina Garten finds cooking stressful?

  • Ina Garten:

    I do.

    I find it really, totally engaging. And I'm highly alert when I'm cooking. And that's kind of a good place to be.

  • William Brangham:

    Right. It keeps your focus.

  • Ina Garten:

    Yes.

  • William Brangham:

    You keep focused on one thing. And, in some ways, the outside world dissolves away

  • Ina Garten:

    For a while, yes. And then you end up with something delicious to serve.

  • William Brangham:

    When all of this is over and we're back to not being social distanced from each other, and people get back to some semblance of normalcy, is there something that you hope people take from this experience that they inject into your — into their regular lives?

  • Ina Garten:

    I think one thing that we're doing is appreciating the everyday things in life, a delivery of flowers, a kindness by a neighbor.

    I think we are — it's not about success and collecting things. I think it's really about staying close to people that are important to you. And it would be great if we kept that.

  • William Brangham:

    Those are beautiful, obviously important words.

    Ina Garten, thank you so much for being here. Great to see you again.

  • Ina Garten:

    Great to see you, William. Thank you so much for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we're all going to head to the pantry this weekend.

    Thank you, William. And thank you to Ina Garten.

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